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Woman dies after trying to rescue cat from tree

Radio New Zealand Radio New Zealand 1/12/2016

A Wairarapa woman who became stuck in a tree after attempting to rescue her cat later died as a result of her injuries, a coroner has found.

Gaylene Dunn, 55, died on 21 December 2014 at Wellington Hospital. In his findings released today, Coroner Tim Scott ruled Ms Dunn died of rhabdomyolysis- a condition where skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly as a result of a crush injury.

In his report, Coroner Scott said Ms Dunn's neighbour, Rose Martin, had heard a banging noise coming from a neighbouring property around 5pm on 19 December.

She went outside and told the person making the noise to cut it out, but it didn't stop.

The banging continued for about an hour and a half, at which point Ms Martin went to investigate.

She couldn't see anyone but heard Ms Dunn calling out her name. She eventually found Ms Dunn standing in a cabbage tree in a fenced in backyard.

One of her feet was wedged between the two branches and she had been stuck for one-and-a-half to two hours after trying to rescue her cat.

Neighbours helped Ms Martin to wedge the branches apart and free Ms Dunn, with ambulance and police services arriving shortly after.

When paramedics examined Ms Dunn she was conscious and alert, but unable to put weight on her right foot which was swollen and bruised. Her heart rate then raised significantly, with the level of oxygen in her blood dropping below normal.

Ms Dunn was taken to Masterton Hospital, where her vital signs were assessed around 10pm. However overnight Ms Dunn's condition deteriorated and at 1.30am doctors contacted Wellington Hospital in a bid to transfer her to their Intensive Care Unit.

The transfer team were busy and she was only able to be taken at 7.30am. Ms Dunn arrived at Wellington Hospital at 10.10am on 19 December, but despite full support over the next 24 hours her condition continued to deteriorate.

By 2.30pm on 21 December life support was turned off and Gaylene died around 3pm. Ms Dunn's sister raised concerns about the treatment provided by Masterton Hospital, but the coroner's report found that while there were some slight delays in treatment, it was unlikely to have affected her overall outcome.

Coroner Scott ruled that Ms Dunn died as a result of the soft tissue injury she suffered while stuck in the tree.

* This story originally mistakenly named Gaylene Dunn as Gaylene Preston. We apologise for the error, which has now been corrected.

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